Casting Beyond the Tree

or: “Omg, it’s full of women!”

The topic tends to come up every so often – what’s with the cast, why are all the major characters women, so forth, so on. It’s rather amusing to reflect upon in hindsight, especially with how every now and then someone will try to imbue the fact with some kind of meaning, agenda or otherwise ulterior motive. The hilarious truth is that it all actually happened more by accident than anything – I didn’t even really take note that some might find the cast choices odd or unusual until things were well underway.

So how did it happen? Well..

I had an idea. It all started with an image I did just for fun, starring my own World of Warcraft character and another one connected to her – one of her adopted cubs, in fact. It was simple and hardly a laughing riot, but it had potential somewhere – something about it just clicked.. and I found myself thinking “You know.. I could make a Webcomic based on this. And so I did.

Hani and Tiny, the core duo, were already given. They both started as caricatures of existing characters and then evolved from there. Te’len was the third character that was added to the cast – a false start had made me realize I needed more than just the duo to keep things going; moreover, I wanted someone who could be a connection to Tinys’ past the way Hani had in the Sentinels and the High Priestess. Te’len already existed in some form in the past of the character Tiny was based on, so adapting her seemed a natural decision. Tyrande and the Sentinels – Raene in particular – already had key roles to play due to Hani being a former Sentinel.

After that.. things were a little more up in air. I mostly just spitballed a few rough archetypes I thought might make for interesting additions. In the initial plot layout, Areen was actually a stout dwarven priestess named Mora, with a self-occupied human rogue named Ivram and an insecure gnome mage called Oz set to join sometimes after the Deadmines. Interestingly enough, none of those three characters survived the plot overhauls – Ivram and Oz both were cut simply because their motivation for being there never felt solid enough; they just seemed to follow along without any real reason to do so. For that matter, none of them really managed to grow beyond their archetypes, unlike Te’len who quickly gained an identity of her own and asserted her position within the larger plot – to the point where she ended up coming along for the Deadmines visit even though the original plans had intended for her to stay behind.

Mora on the other hand wasn’t so much cut as was overtaken by an entirely different character – Areen was an alt of mine who had started with what I thought was an amusing concept and had just.. developed – a chance dialogue with a paladin on Earthen Ring EU turned her motivations entirely around and she turned into a devout follower of the Holy Light almost overnight. I loved the character she had become, but at the time utterly hated the warrior mechanics she was bound to. So a friend of mine suggested a compromise: Put Areen into Beyond the Tree. It didn’t take much convincing – Areen was a much more developed character and could easilly take over the role Mora had in the plot, not to mention could add some gnomish sensibilities that I had lost when Oz was cut, and Areen fit in. She was just as much an outsider as the rest of the group. It was perfect.

I’ll admit I actually found it rather odd how some people reacted such a female-heavy cast – for me it was never an issue of any sort: the cast are always characters and individuals first, to say there’s an ulterior motive in Hani being a woman is akin to saying there’s an ulterior motive in her hair being green. I actually feel like I’ve been almost forcibly dragged into the whole topic/discussion/whatever about equality and sex and gender roles – it was never something I intended and I stand firm in that my purpose in Beyond the Tree is and always has been to tell a story about characters. To some degree I actually feel somewhat slighted when people try to imply it has ulterior motives.

Of course, a friend of mine tends to point out that if the cast had been largely dominated by men instead of all women, no one would even have batted an eyelid. I’ll admit that the more I find myself embroiled in the whole matter, the more those words seem to ring true. It’s funny in a way, because I never thought this was a big issue; in my naivety, I’d readily assumed that we’d accepted the sexes are equal and were just waiting for the paperwork to catch up.

Beyond the Tree is built on the traditional hero journey more than anything, a path long traversed by myth and fantasy both. By its very nature, it has to do with empowerment, and while the cast are by large women, they are also flawed individuals who are much more than simply what sex they were born to. I’d like to think that the problems they have to come to terms with, the lessons they have to learn and the path they have to walk is by no means restricted – I think most people can relate to the things they go through on some level, whether men or women.

Of course, having the main characters all women for the first story arc has additional benefits in that it’s easier to develop a kind of kinship between them – that they become something like sisters in arms without risks for in-group sexual tension, which while potentially amusing would be somewhat distracting and detrimental this early on. Of course, one thing that massively boosts the female presence in Beyond the Tree overall is Hani’s Sentinel past – not only having been a member of the all-woman night elven army but also being known to the High Priestess somehow makes it somewhat difficult to avoid. And while Te’len comes from a portion of night elven society that’s largely male-dominated, that’s generally left more implied than stated outright, and the current leader of said portion is generally reviled by all.

I think to one degree a mistake some make is to assume that just because a character is a protagonist, they’re automatically right – it’s not really the case, and while we’re generally supposed to root for them.. we’re not always supposed to agree with the duo, and there’s times they do cross the line. It’s an important realization to make – that just because the characters say or believe something doesn’t mean that is right, or that it represents what I think.

Of course, there are male characters in Beyond the Tree – some which I think people underestimate simply because the duo talks down to them. Delgren notably, and he still has a part to play in the coming future. For all his apparent whining, city guard Captain Horace Cravenrest has shown a significant degree of patience when dealing with the mismatched group as well – while essentially an extended cameo, I never saw him as weak or antagonistic as some seem to. He’s a decent enough sort just trying to do his job – something which can become increasingly difficult when the duo is involved.

And then there is That Fifth Character set for arc two – the mysterious one that we won’t see for quite some time yet but keeps being brought up as when the group will start dragging a guy along for their adventures. What sets him appart from previously axed characters is that he has a direct purpose in the narrative – he’s essential to arc two, and as a result becomes developed as it does. I’m quite looking forward to when he shows up, though it’s not something that can be rushed along – every character needs a solid role and purpose to fit into the dynamic, and his simply won’t work until arc two.

So where is all this headed? Well, to an interesting narrative, hopefully. Those that get hung up are in general still a minority and arguably not part of my target audience anyway, so it’s not as if it’s all woe is me or anything. It’s something that’s been stewing over in my mind though, so it’s something I’ve been wanting to get out of my system. Ultimately, Beyond the Tree remains on the same track it has been – a story about characters, the things they experience and how they change on the way. If it helps make representation more even then all the better, I think – it’s a bonus, but the characters and their journey still comes first.


29 Responses to “Casting Beyond the Tree”

  1. December 18, 2009 at 02:36

    Ya know, this is why one of the tags on my blog is “Because It’s Annoying Me” — for all the things I stew over and need to get out of my system.

  2. 2 Ilyara
    December 18, 2009 at 03:18

    Haaiiii Areen! πŸ˜€

    *waves back*

    I think the different reactions partly reflect the internationality of teh internets and the english speaking WoW community too. Some societies are more egalitarian than others and some social circles are more diverse; which can have a way of hiding wider social problems too πŸ™‚

  3. 3 Ilyara
    December 18, 2009 at 03:23

    Moooonkin plushieees!!!! πŸ˜€



  4. 4 Gordrake Thunderhoof
    December 18, 2009 at 10:11

    *laughs at previous comment*

    It’s Christmas, and you can tell…

    Anyways, to comment on the post, the casting, I think, is actually unavoidable and wasn’t ever likely to change in all the creation, I think, simply because most of it is tied to the storyline of Warcraft in one way or another – the rest is simply archetypes other people see normally or some such.

    To explain myself: The bartendress (I forget her name) is a common archetype for bartenders everywhere – especially in WoW. Just try to find a male serving out drinks! Te’len may not come under a lot of archetypes, but women being the natural nurturers of the world (such as the Earthmother in Tauren legend or even Mother Nature in the real world) it seems a rather obvious choice. And nobody likes male druids much since Staghelm. Areen, if she fits into any gaps, is essentially threefold: A protest against warriors (though that seems to be largely passive now – but I have to admit, Devastate is now devastatingly annoying), a love for Gnomes and currently the plot leader, since she’s giving the rest of the group somewhere to go and something to do. And let’s face it, if Hani stayed in Stormwind any longer, she’d have got arrested.

    Hani, being ex-Sentinel, has to be female simply because of the all-female nature of the Sentinels, as Nhani’s already stated above. No if’s or but’s there. Tiny is essentially the role of ‘companion’ – the little yappy one that’s always trying to mean something. Raene Wolfrunner, again, is Sentinel, so has to be female, and I should imagine Tyrande is VERY self-explanatory. Tyrande, interestingly, seems to have a dual role for me in the comic: She’s obviously leader of the Night Elves (as per WoW) but is also, to Hani, a representation of her conscience, trying to make her think about what she’s doing, coming to her in dreams to try to entice her onto the right path.

    As for the upcoming character in Arc Two…all I can share is that this is going to be a more interesting journey than this current arc. Staying tuned is the only option, though, if you want to find out more. πŸ˜› I’m not one for spoilers – that’s Nhani’s job!

    Also, I’ve started to shift to ER as well, having recently got WotLK (special thanks to Pheo for that!) and made a DK. Currently a grief-stricken dwarf by the name Durunbar, who can no longer even drink to quell his inner pain. Currently, he’s going to be around Stormwind, looking for a purpose in life (a level 58 though, so be reasonable if you want to help out :P) If he ventures out, then he’s collecting ores to relearn the trade he remembers having prior to his damnation into being taken under the Lich King’s wing – which is mostly fuelled by his desire to be rid of his armor – the memory of that vile connection to the Lich King. Might also play my Defias-hating Paladin called Enyon sometime too, so yeah…

    …don’t worry though. If they’re not on, I’m likely on Gordrake, slaying my way to 80 in Northrend. Already got 2 Emblems of Triumph thanks to the Dungeon Finder.

  5. 6 Iasion
    December 18, 2009 at 19:08

    I was never really bothered by the female heavy cast. However, I was a little suspicious when Delgren was introduced and the duo seemed eager to belittle him. He didn’t really give me the impression that he was incompetent or lazy, just not as capable as Hani in combat (which, from observing her, it would seem few are). If memory serves, he was the first male character introduced who made regular appearances for awhile. Hani and Tee were quick to belittle him. I know you’ve hinted that there is more story behind the reasoning for this, but when you have a female heavy cast and the first male out of the gates is met with snide comments and impatience, it will unfortunately rouse suspicions.

    I ultimately withheld judgment on the matter. One point doesn’t define a trend, after all. I figured that maybe you’re a female (I have no idea, to be honest), and that most of your characters you play are female. Many of my own characters are male, each one indicative of myself or my interests. The ones that are female don’t represent anything of me so much, usually because it was a race/class combination that I just didn’t personally connect with for some reason. The ratio is almost balanced for me- 4 males, 3 females.

    Anyway, I’m still very interested in the comic and where it’s going. I do enjoy the characters, and no, it’s not just because they happen to mostly be night elf women. ^_~

    • 7 Nhani
      December 19, 2009 at 01:31

      Ah Delgren, he had somewhat bad luck by being the one who had to tell Tiny that Te’len had disappeared – I don’t think there was anything he could’ve done to save her at the time, but I doubt Tiny cares. To her, he was the one who “allowed” someone she cares greatly for to come to harm, and she’s not likely to forgive him for that – even if no one else blames him.

      As for Hani, I never felt she was really antagonistic towards him – dismissive, yes, but she’s that to nearly everyone she meets. Of course, as part of Delgrens’ bad luck, he appeared at a time when most people they met were Sentinels, and Hani tends to have a significant amount of reverence for them; not because they’re women, but because they’re the Sentinels. If you think about it, she’s never once talked back to, nor raised her voice or her hand against them, no matter how much some of them talk down to her. It was really a point I was trying to come across with while we were still in night elven lands, how quickly Hani tends to just back down whenever it’s a Sentinel (or, indeed, Tyrande) involved.

      Of course, it probably didn’t help that that part of the game (as well as the comic) has largely just women to go about. It’s funny because to me, Delgren didn’t so much represent men as he represented humans.

  6. December 18, 2009 at 21:27

    To be honest i didn’t mind the female cast at all, it’s like reading a super herionne comic, you read the story of a female hero and how she tries to get victory or try to save the day.

  7. 9 Synchronizor
    December 19, 2009 at 08:32

    Took me a while to realize that the first image was a clicky, I was trying to figure out how Aren suddenly got to be waist-high to a Night Elf. It’s a really cool image, though I think you should render a complete cast one, including Delgren, and Staghelm’s unconcious body in the background.

    Your friend made an excellent point that an all-male core group wouldn’t have garnered any reaction at all. That perspective on it would seem to shine the negative light more on the people crying sexism than in whatever motives you might have.

    I’m of the same opinion as Gorvar. It’s like He-Man versus She-Ra, It’s the storytelling that matters, not the sex of the protagonist.

    • 10 Nhani
      December 19, 2009 at 10:54

      The original title for this post was actually “The Women of Beyond the Tree”, hence the image. I later changed the title just after posting it because it felt like this one fit much better with the content, but liked the image enough not to try to change it along with. That said, I might try another group shot at some later time.

  8. 11 Grannd-ArgentDawn
    December 20, 2009 at 03:22

    Rather interesting, I do have one general fear however – You have yet to touch on living dwarves for the moment, barely any speech from them. I just have one thing to beg of you should you ever come round to throwing a dwarf in there – Even as a minor character.

    Please don’t make him a useless drunk! I feel stupid for ranting this, but i’ve done it on so many channels on Argent Dawn i’m practically famous for it – I view Dwarves as intelligent beings, and intelligence and alcohol don’t mix – Alcohol makes dwarves smart you say? Rubbish! It’s simple fact alcohol clouds your judgement!

    Take my character for instance – He’s a General, he can’t be drunk all the time as he needs to keep his head and all that. I have garnered quite a positive reaction for breaking away from the stereotype. I think it would be quite interesting if you brought that into Beyond the Tree!

    Also – I didn’t mind the all female cast, as Night Elf society is mostly focussed on females. It’s a nice change!

    Also, Areen is kick-ass.

  9. 13 Blayaden
    December 21, 2009 at 04:12

    I’ve been following “Beyond the Tree” since you popped up on the Warcraft Model Viewer forums- which was a while back near the end of the first chapter. It never really dawned on me (being male) that it was odd having an all-female cast. I never really noticed it until you mentioned it now.

    I love reading the comic because of all the hard work you put into the story, characters, art, ect… it would be something that I would love to do someday. I’ve been itching to do something with my characters and my family & friends characters…

    Anyways, I’d like to congratulate you on all your hard work! It took me a lot of courage to post this! XD

    • 14 Moltrazahn
      December 21, 2009 at 11:25

      Good man! grand to take the step from lurker to poster.
      Myself followed the comic after page 2, but didnt post before … i forgot, anywho! now bearly a page goes by without im ranting my veiws about it (becuass my veiws are important! YOU ALL KNOW IT!… even the ones not knowing me!… *stares long and hard, then gets tears in eyes*)

      Anywho, not sure were that was going, but welcome to posting! … or something :P… Im trying to be enthusiastic! *nodnod*

      And i can agree, being male myself, ive never really noticed it alot, as allready stated above, night elven society is mostly dominated by women, or atleast so it was before the rain of chaos, seeing as how the druids were alseep. So i found myself not really minding our nightelven cast being all of one-gender. That Areen also were female, well, i completely ignored that fact since she is a GNOME-PALADIN! (*woots from crowd*), which is just awesomeness on a stick.

      Thinking on the future male party member, im museing myself with how he would feel in a group like this though. The women can relate on many points were (some) men would be out of tuch. Then there is the aspect as to what race of male it would be! Orc would be fun, becauss their relations with the nightelfs are less then kind, and the male orc is a brute thing mostly (not saying dumb, just very bruteish in appearance). Yet! all for the future to show! ^^

      • December 21, 2009 at 15:06

        I was thinking the same thing about the male character…

        The first character I created in the warcraft universe was an Elven Ranger (Warcraft II being the first game I played). I liked the rangers a lot, and I was (and still am) a big fan of Alleria Windrunner. (oh, Blizzard bring her and Turlyon back!)

        I missed warcraft III, and such, when I first saw Warcraft, I was shocked at the changes that had happened. (Where are the high elves? Who are the Night Elves? The orcs are the “good guys”?, Island Trolls? Forsaken/Banshee queen Sylvanas WINDRUNNER!?)

        Eventually I solved this by making the “original” character one of Alleria’s Ranger’s that dissapeared beyond the dark portal- and whose family was split apart during the third war.

        Blad’nas Dawnflight- Following in his fathers’ footsteps as a ranger and sailing west to Kalimdor, meeting the “new horde” and fighting at Hyjal- eventually becoming an emmisarry for the High Elves and Alliance. Now occupied with gathering his people under the Silver Covenant and finding what happened to his family…

        Solus’kad Dawnflight- lost in regular “elven” society, he found his calling in the holy light. One of the few elven paladins in the Silver Hand, and was decimated by the actions Arthas took to disband his order and his mentor (Uther). Returning to Quel’thelas, he became one of the few Blood Elf Paladins (non-blood knights), and a loyal member of the Argent Dawn/Crusade. Currently in Northrend at the Argent Tournament…

        Eh, thats probably more than you want to know… If you’re interested about my characters, you can see my userpage at Wowwiki.

  10. 16 Phearlock
    December 21, 2009 at 12:34

    I really didn’t take note of the current main cast being nearly all female. I really don’t care as long as the characters themselves are believeable enough. (Which they are, yay)

    I’d rant a bit but Moltrazahn has already said basically what I’d end up saying. So we’ll leave it at that. =)

    • 17 Moltrazahn
      December 22, 2009 at 18:08

      Yea, sorry bout that. I tend to dream of peoples thoughts and then write them down as my own, its a bad habit and i’m seeking help. But thank you for being forgiveing about it ;P

  11. 18 Kom
    December 21, 2009 at 22:20

    I never thought the cast being mainly female was a problem as long as the characters remained somewhat believable which they have. I was among those throwing his hands into the air with joy when Areen was introduced as a main character but I know there are those who think the idea of a gnomish female paladin is unfathomably ridiculous, paladins have been stereotyped as big, strong men too much I guess.

  12. 19 Ragefury
    December 22, 2009 at 03:27

    Te’len and Raene, the most light-dressed characters in this comic…

    To be honest, they’re the two who does reflect the Night Elven culture most – they don’t care much about how they dress as long as it covers up their private parts properly, which I like most about them – this goes for the males aswell – just look at Staghelm. πŸ˜‰

    Also, I’ve never thought the females playing the biggest roles in thic comic to be a problem either – as long as it’s weighted up with some male characters, it keeps a good balance, even though males has never played any huge role yet – might change with the introduction of the fifth character, if you’ve really planned it to be played by a male.

    • 20 Gordrake Thunderhoof
      December 24, 2009 at 13:44

      Character #5 will be male, there’s no question about that. But yeah, even so the issue about Male V Female is a ridiculous one and shouldn’t ever really be a problem. Like Nhani thought, I thought the entire issue was resolved and just waiting for the rest of society to live with it.

    • 21 Nhani
      December 26, 2009 at 18:25

      Unless the entirety of arc two gets axed in favor of something else, the fifth main cast member is essentially set in stone – arc two needs him, he needs arc two. It’s the kind of symbiosis that main characters ultimately rely on – purpose. I’ve long since concluded that a main character that doesn’t fit into a certain story arc simply shouldn’t be a main character for that arc.

      I haven’t really put much focus into balance – it hasn’t been an essential part of the narrative because it isn’t a story about equality – it doesn’t need to be, so to make it a part of the narrative hasn’t served much of a purpose for me. That said, Arc Two will probably flip some things around seeing where it takes place and the concepts it’s built on.

  13. 22 Thalis
    December 24, 2009 at 09:10

    Merry Christmas, Nhani and thank you for all the work you do.

  14. 23 Yunaris
    December 24, 2009 at 23:02

    Personally one of the reasons I read this is the strong, well presented female character that simply isn’t the usual emo people killer female that Holywood needs to present to make a female ‘powerful’.

    This, like the books by Garth Nix, is powerfully and well presented females and I certainly consider it a good breath of fresh air.

    Just to add, this is coming from a male.

  15. 24 Arcfelonas
    December 26, 2009 at 13:25

    I have never been bothered by the cast’s “sex” so to speak. Having read my fair share of fantasy before coming to WoW I have had my fill of strong female leads in novels and actaully it’s garnered a huge amount of respect for women in whatever postion they happen to be in.

    The one book that cemented my view of women being capabable of fighthing well or even better than thier male peers was “Ash” by Mary Gentle. I feel some connection between both Hani and Ash because they are first and foremost Warriors I know Hani is a Sentinal but to me it boils down to the same thing. Ash on the other hand led an entire mecenary company of her own and in all honesty if I had been a contract soldier I would have probably ended up in the Lion Azure because it was the “body” that Ash was the head of. Also to be honest women in combat can be bloody scary! I know men like to think we are the ones who should be doing it but ever since reading that book I’ve felt hell if a woman can write a novel with such a strong,bloody minded and in her own way maternal charcter then my take my hat off to Nhani for creating all of these characters who I think are all brillant. I can’t see any fault in the narrative as for sexism that made me laugh if it was a male cast like so many people I would have just passed the comic by.

    I love it and will endevour to keep coming back for more. Hani like Ask Rocks!

  16. 25 Nhani
    December 26, 2009 at 18:12

    It’s actually kind of funny, because on one end there’s all these responses saying it’s not out of order, there’s nothing odd or noteworthy with it and people are here for the characters and the narrative and aren’t really all that fussed about which sex a character is or that the majority of reoccurring ones are female.

    On the other hand, I have someone who’s slowly working his way through the BtT archives and tossing out the odd implication about “Why is that?” with the female-heavy cast, to the point of outright questioning whether it’s conscious or subconscious bias on my behalf.

    While the responses here has put me at somewhat ease feeling that the majority (or at least the vocal majority) doesn’t see the cast as out of order, or even see it as one of the main draws of the series – which is a good thing – it does make me even more perplexed as to why it’s just this huge issue for some.

  17. December 26, 2009 at 21:52

    To be honest the back of my head still goes to ‘Protect the Women and the Children’ when there is a battle. However when reading and watching characters like Hani or Xena or Jaina Proudmoore, you know they can handle themselves and , to me, are a form of inspiration for writers to include more female heroes in their writers.

  18. 27 Gryffyn
    December 28, 2009 at 00:57

    One of the things about this comic is that it hammers home that there are BIG (yeah terrible pun) differences between the races. The NELF ladies are probably as big as your typical NBA player and tower over poor Delgren. He is also a toddler to the nightelves in their frame of reference. the elves are OLD and have experienced a lot more than even the oldest king or human soldier. Imagine what it must do the the human soldiers ego to see a female warrior who not only towers over them but is probably stronger and faster.

    In the game my Nelf male warrior makes most of the humans like like the 90 skinny weakling while a Tauren makes my guy look a like a shrimp. I keep thinking why my character is going to Outland, traveling the long cold distances to Northrend. Hell, he has had quite a career in human terms and probably deserves to retire to his own place and start a garden. Nightelfs wouldn’t go to war for the same reasons that humans or dwarfs would. They live too long and have seen too much.

    This comic is a wonderful way to highlight the motivations and differences in the species. Nelfs are mysterious, humans hot tempered and impulsive, dwarves are cunning, etc. Keep it up!

  19. 28 Falis
    January 3, 2010 at 03:27

    I think why the NElfs are light-armored because they prefer agility rather than strength…thats why they are the only race that can do front flip XD

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